(ESPN) LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The final hole of the PGA Championship played out in near darkness Sunday — and with odd protocol.
In an effort to get the tournament finished before players couldn’t see, Phil Mickelson andRickie Fowler motioned for eventual winner Rory McIlroy and Bernd Wiesberger to hit their tee shots so they wouldn’t have to wait for Fowler and Mickelson to finish the hole.
It got odd when PGA of America officials allowed McIlroy and Wiesberger to hit their second shots to the green while Mickelson and Fowler were near the par-5’s putting surface.
That is typically a courtesy to be offered by the players — and one that wasn’t going to be forthcoming in those circumstances.
“We were cool with hitting the tee shot,” said Fowler, who, along with Mickelson, trailed by two shots as the hole was unfolding. “We weren’t expecting the approach shots. Typically, if it’s getting dark and they are going to the blow the horn [to suspend play], you at least get the guys off the tee and it gives them the opportunity to play. We weren’t expecting the approach shots.”
Kerry Haigh, chief championships officer of the PGA of America, said it was his understanding that the players in the last group asked to play as four but were denied. He also said it was his understanding that the players allowed the final group to hit their approach shots to the green, which Fowler disputed.
Why does it matter?
Because McIlroy normally would have had to wait for the entire hole to unfold in front of him. It might not have mattered, but had Mickelson or Fowler holed his respective third shot for eagle, it might have altered the way McIlroy played the hole. Instead, he hit up into a greenside bunker before those shots were played.
“It changes things a little bit,” Fowler said. “Obviously, there is no waiting. Phil and I waited on the tee for a good amount of time and had to hit tee shots. In a way, [McIlroy and Wiesberger] never got out of rhythm as far as hitting the golf shots. I don’t think it really changes it much. We were allowing them to hit the tee shots and we weren’t expecting the approach shots to come.”
Mickelson stopped short of criticizing the situation in a television interview afterward but was clearly agitated on the green.
“It’s not a big deal either way,” he said.
McIlroy won the tournament by one shot over Mickelson. Fowler finished third thanks to a lip out putt on 18 that cost him $300,000. Fowler, who made $580,000 as the third-place finisher, would have collected $880,000 if he’d tied Mickelson for second.
“The guys let us play up with our drives, and they didn’t need to do that. They could have just left us on the tee box there and just play normally,” McIlroy said. “But they showed a lot of class and a lot of sportsmanship doing that. I thanked Rickie and Phil in the scorer’s area, and reiterated what I said in my speech out there on the 18th green.
“It was a classy move by them, and if they had not done that, we might not have been able to get it all done because it was really getting dark out there.”